Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed the deaths on Monday, bringing the total number of deaths in Canada due to the disease to four. All of the deaths are related to an outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre home in North Vancouver, B.C., earlier this month, which sickened a number of residents and staff.
Henry, the provincial health officer, also said 30 additional cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in B.C. since Saturday. The new cases bring B.C.’s total to 103.
Henry said six patients are in hospital in acute care, while the others who are still sick are in stable condition. Five people have fully recovered, although Henry said there are “many more” whose symptoms have been resolved.
The new cases were found in the Fraser Health, Vancouver Coastal Health, Interior Health and Island Health regions.
Provincial, federal officials rush to slow spread
The jump in cases comes as provincial and federal health officials each take the most sweeping measures to date in the Canadian fight against the global coronavirus pandemic, moving to prepare hospitals for an influx of patients, cancelling any large gatherings and, at a national level, closing the country’s borders to most non-residents.
B.C. Health Minster Adrian Dix said Monday all of the province’s hospitals are being moved to an outbreak response phase, meaning all non-urgent scheduled surgeries will be postponed. Cancelling elective surgeries, Dix said, will free up “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” of hospital beds as the health care system braces itself for more patients.
“We do not take it lightly, but we believe … we have to prepare our hospitals,” Dix said, speaking in Victoria on Monday.
Henry, B.C.’s top doctor, said the province is also now asking British Columbians to cancel gatherings of 50 people or more. The directive is an update to last week’s advice to cancel gathering with more than 250 people.
In another advisory, Henry said more possible cases of COVID-19 have been linked to a sizeable dental conference held in Vancouver on March 6-7. One case was already confirmed with a conference attendee last week.
The health officer said the 15,000 people who attended that conference “need to self-isolate immediately.”
Cases of COVID-19 span every regional health authority in the province. The first death earlier this month was a man in his 80s who had pre-existing health conditions.
Henry said Monday that she did not have details on the additional three deaths.
The social landscape in B.C. shifted over the weekend as officials and residents alike tried to encourage social distancing, a public health practice of avoiding crowds and large gatherings that can slow the spread of a virus. Health officials across the country said the distancing will ease the burden on the health-care system over time — an intervention known as “flattening the curve.”
Before the provincial update Monday, the federal government announced borders are being closed to non-citizens and non-permanent residents of Canada — with the exception of airline staff, diplomats, immediate family members of citizens and permanent residents as well as travellers from the United States.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the U.S. border remains open “at the moment” because integration of the two countries’ economies is “quite particular,” and the American exception is something that will continue to be discussed in coming days.
On Monday, Dix said provincial officials “remain concerned” that visitors from Washington state may still be allowed into British Columbia, given the severity of the outbreak stateside.
“It’s our strong view that visitors from the U.S. not come to British Columbia, do not come visit,” Dix said.